Plugging in

Unplugging Is Uncool, But So Is Hogging The Power

It’s a tricky problem. You need to charge up, but there’s someone else parked at the charging station and they appear to have been there a while. They’ve finished charging and you need to get on your way.

Unplug, or find somewhere else to charge. Just what do you do?

Of course, it never used to be a problem, because very few people took their EVs beyond the safety limits of a single-charge. But as EV sales slowly rise and charging networks become more reliable, we’re bumping into more and more people at public charging stations. Sometimes we even have to queue to charge, and sometimes we arrive to find a fully charged car, still connected to the station, its owner nowhere to be seen.

While we think this falls into the category of ‘nice problem to have’, it is still a problem. Unique to electric cars — when did you last see someone park at a petrol station and then walk off? — it presents some tough questions.

How do you determine who needs the charger more? Who gets to say who can be unplugged or not? And can you unplug a car if it hasn’t finished charging but you’re late for your 4pm appointment?

Enter reader Jason Wallace, who reached out to us on twitter with with just this kind of problem. Wallace says he sees the same car plugged into a public charging station for hours and hours at a time, well beyond the length of time needed to charge it up. What could he do, he asks, if he drove up needing a charge?

 

 

In trying to codify our response, we had a tough time finding a catch-all response.

Unplugging

Would you unplug?

Would you unplug?

One solution would be to just unplug the offending car. Unlike the state of California where state legislature makes it illegal to be parked at a charging station without being plugged in – thus making ‘charger sharing’ illegal, there’s nothing to theoretically stop you from unplugging someone else’s car in the UK. Except maybe politeness.

However, as we have to supply our own cable to use with charging stations on the street in the UK, the Transport Evolved team can’t think of anything that would be ruder in the electric car world than to unplug someone else’s car then use their cable to charge up yours.

Newer cars eliminate the problem altogether, since they usually lock the charge cable onto the car’s charge inlet and make it impossible to unplug the cable from the locked car.

If you’re using a Type 2 (Mennekes) charging station – the EU standard – the other end of the charging cable is locked into the charger while power is being supplied anyway, making it impossible to unplug a charging car if both ends of the cable are locked.

Since the lock on the charging station stays active while power is being delivered to the car, when charging ends the cable lock should disengage, allowing someone else to come along, unplug the first car and then plug their own car in.

The issue with this is that the car needs to have finished charging and the charging station needs to be programmed to know that it is okay to release the cable without a swipe of the ‘Smart’ card carried by the initial user in this situation. Smart RFID cards, in this situation, could potentially ‘reserve’ a charging station for one car even after it is fully charged until the owner returns.

The EV Hierarchy of Needs

What happens if you get to a charging station and the other driver is there? Then what?

Who needs to charge more?

Who needs to charge more?

There is a unwritten set of recommendations when it comes to this – although Chevrolet did just write some of them down to help new Spark EV drivers. The recommendations are as follows:

  • Pure electric cars trump plug-in hybrids/range-extended hybrids.The argument being they have another means of propulsion.
  • A pure-EV with enough range to move on to the next charger should do if the other car wouldn’t be able to make it.
  • If neither vehicle can make it to the next charging station, priority comes down to need. Now this could be how much or little charge is needed, one person needing to be somewhere at a certain time or any other factor.

Conclusion

To return to Jason’s query, we’re afraid there’s not a lot he can do. It’s likely the charging station is waiting for the owner to return and swipe their RFID card before releasing the charging cable.

The best to hope for would be that the owner has a note in the window with contact details. That way people who need a charge can get in touch and – hopefully – get access to the charger.

That’s why we recommend all plug-in drivers to leave a note in the window of your car with contact details on it if you’re in a location with just one charging station. Allow people to get in contact. You never know when you may be the one needing the charge.

What would you do in Jason’s situation? Do you think anything needs to be added to the EV Hierarchy of Needs? Does the size of the pure-EV’s battery matter? Let us know in the comments below.

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